MH in the Marketplace

by Lauretta Dearing

Over the 75 years that Madonna House has been in existence, there have been long-term guests, applicants, and staff members who have been formed by Madonna House spirituality and have gone into the “world” to live the Little Mandate. I am one such person.

God has plans for each of us and sometimes in reflecting back on our lives we can see how he works. His plans for us are amazing.

I was a high school teacher. Feeling drawn to a Franciscan spirituality, I had spent some summer times with various contemplative orders.

One summer, I was on my way to a European vacation, and because of the desires of my traveling companion, who was also a teacher, we stopped at Madonna House for two weeks. She wanted to check it out and see if this was where God was calling her.

New guests were often seated at Catherine’s table for supper, and she questioned us as to how long we were planning to stay. When I said that I would be staying for only two weeks and then heading to Europe, she gave me one of her looks, and it pierced me. Those of you who knew her would know what I mean.

She said, “Well, (a long pause), we shall see.” She also told my friend to listen to her heart as to when and where to go.

From the moment I arrived, I had a sense of being home. Neither of us went to Europe. After two weeks, my friend decided to return home and consider becoming a Sister of Charity of Halifax. I decided to stay for the summer and was filled daily with God’s grace and joy.

At the end of the summer, after a quick trip home to make arrangements for closing my apartment, etc., I returned to become a long-term working guest for a year.

I learned how to live a life obedient to God, which gives a person so much freedom. At the end of the year, I requested to become an applicant. Catherine said, “Yes, but realize that God will prune you.”

During that time, he did prune me in many ways. He showed me my areas of weakness in loving others and led me to be open to his grace and trust him.

At that time, though applicancy was one year, it was decided that I should have a second year. Catherine said that God needed to do some more pruning.

It was painful not to make promises with the rest of my class, but I accepted her decision as coming from God.

When I did make First Promises of poverty, chastity, and obedience, I felt the grace of God filling me. Within me, the promises were for life, not just for one year.

Catherine would give a word to each of us when giving us our MH cross to wear. My word was: “Since you have suffered so much in so many ways, like we all have, alleviate with this cross, the suffering of others.”

Over the years, I spent time at the main house in Combermere in various work departments and also some time in various mission houses.

The Little Mandate (Madonna House spirituality) became life for me; it was how I was living my life. But when it came time for Final Promises, I had a meeting with Jean Fox, our director general of women, and Catherine. Between us and with the help of my spiritual director, it was decided that I would complete my final year under temporay promises and then leave Madonna House.

In the last year, it had become obvious to all of us that I was called to a more contemplative way of life. My work as a department head was requiring more and more time, and I found it difficult to find the time needed to just be with my Lord with no distractions.

This resulted in my becoming ill off and on. I had also developed a nutritional disease. There was a tension between what I was doing and what God was calling me to be.

As always, Catherine gave me direction. She said, “Go and be a hermit in the marketplace.”

On the day I left, she said to me, “Go forth into the marketplace as a hermit and be a light to others. Remember sacrifice.”

At that time, I did not realize the full implication of what she was saying.

I returned to the “world”. For most of those years, I continued to pray the Mandate daily. Wherever I lived, I tried to put part of my home aside for a poustinia and spent part of the week in meditation and contemplation.

For forty years, I did various kinds of work. I taught school and worked as a civilian for the Department of Defense and for manufacturing companies. Within each company, I followed Catherine’s instructions to me.

To preach the words (spirituality) of the Mandate with my life. Not to preach in words, and only explaining my way of living when asked.

It was not me but the grace of God working through me, that everywhere I worked, people returned to Church—not necessarily the Catholic Church, but the Church in which they were baptized. Many others became Catholic. It was God’s love pouring through my life.

I continued to be pruned, and I am grateful for that pruning, as it has drawn me closer to God.

I have maintained my connection to Madonna House through Restoration, correspondence with certain members, and offering prayer for staff members. Staff members celebrate their birthday or baptismal day. I have a record of those days and on their day, I pray for them.

When I left Madonna House, Catherine told me that as long as I continued to live the Madonna House Mandate, I would always be part of Madonna House.

And so, each guest, member, and applicant who has spent time at Madonna House and has continued to live Madonna House spirituality is part Madonna House.

I am so grateful for my time with Catherine and with all of Madonna House.